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Published on: Sep. 20, 2010

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Jeff Cox

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Crossing a Fence

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spite of their limitations, air guns still are more than powerful enough for deer hunting. Hammack says he rarely recovers a bullet from a deer carcass. Most pass completely through the body.

Penetration is not the only measure of power, however. Bullets from center-fire rifles travel so fast that they generate shock waves when they strike living tissue. This “hydroshock” effect helps disable deer. Airrifle bullets travel much too slowly to create hydro-shock. Consequently, hunters must hit a deer’s lungs to cause a quick kill with air guns.

In this respect, air rifles have much more in common with crossbows than center-fire rifles. A double-lung shot with an arrow or a low-velocity bullet quickly shuts down a deer’s respiratory system, causing unconsciousness within seconds. Ken Cox said all six deer he and his son have shot fell within sight of their stands. Ken’s last kill, a nine-point buck, got just 20 yards before collapsing.

In some ways, air rifles’ low velocity is an asset. The modest power of large-caliber air rifles means virtually no recoil. This is not a big deal to the average hunter, but it could make the difference between hunting and not hunting for those with shoulder or spinal injuries.

Like arrows or shotgun slugs, bullets fired from air rifles do not travel far if they miss their targets. Some cities, like Wildwood, where the Coxes hunt, permit hunting with air rifles in the city limits to help reduce deer overpopulation and the attendant deer-vehicle accidents and property damage. Besides dramatically reducing the risk of line-of-fire accidents, air guns are much less noisy than conventional rifles.

The Quackenbush rifles Jeff and Ken use are 44 inches long and weigh 8 pounds, 6 ounces. That is longer and heavier than most conventional deer rifles, but comparable to traditional muzzleloaders. Like muzzleloaders, the Cox’s air-powered deer rifle can fire only one shot at a time, although reloading is easier. All they have to do is place another bullet in the breech and close it.

Missouri seems to be in the vanguard of air-gun hunting. Ken says he knows several out-of-state hunters who have started coming to Missouri to take advantage of a deer-hunting opportunity their states do not offer. I question whether air-gunning will ever be popular enough to provide a significant boost to the state’s economy, but we certainly can use help controlling suburban deer populations.

For the Coxes, the challenge of taking deer with an air rifle adds a new dimension to hunting.

“I have taken deer with highpowered rifles, muzzleloaders and archery equipment,” said Ken, “but the challenge and satisfaction of harvesting deer with a large bore air gun has me hooked!”

How it Works

Airguns work by using a burst of compressed air, rather than gunpowder, to force a projectile out of a barrel. Though spring-piston, pneumatic and CO2 types are available, only pneumatic air guns have been approved for deer hunting in Missouri. While a variety of configurations are possible, in this example, when the trigger is pulled, the spring-driven striker pushes the valve stem forward, opening the valves and allowing air from the precharged air reservoir to enter the system and press upward into the chamber, propelling the bullet out of the barrel.

Fire Power

Pneumatic guns use pre-compressed air from an external, high-compression power source. A special hose with a pressure gauge is used to siphon air from the source and into the air gun’s precharged air reservoir.

Air Gun History

Air-powered guns date back at least to the 16th century. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Austrian army used .463- cal air guns capable of firing 22 shots on a charge. Lewis & Clark took an air rifle on their expedition in 1804-06 and amazed Indians with a rifle powerful enough to drive led balls into a tree trunk and capable of firing 40 shots from one charge. For more information about this rifle, see

Where Can I Get One?

If you would like to have an air rifle you will have to get in line. Demand for custom-made air rifles is big, and the supply is small.

Mass-produced versions are available. Search online for “large-caliber air rifle” to find suppliers. Expect to pay $600 or more for a new, factory-made air rifle suitable for deer hunting. This is in line with the cost of many of the better factory-made standard deer rifles.

Be Prepared

Before you begin any hunt, be sure you know the applicable regulations in the Wildlife Code and city ordinances. To view Wildlife Code regulations online, go to

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